Wabash Blogs Peru, Parasites & Global Health

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April 30, 2010

Wabash & Global Health -- What Should We Do?

 “I am here to represent my community and to tell you that we need help – we are asking for your mercy.”

I was visiting an indigenous rainforest community named Kawana-Sisa, outside the city of Tarapoto, Peru. Along with a couple of Peruvian colleagues, I was meeting with leaders of this community to hear about their health and to investigate the kinds of projects / work in which Wabash could become involved. I’m no physician, but I can assure you from observation that the people there struggle with a variety of parasitic diseases. Various leaders were speaking about their lives – how their health and the health of their children are their biggest concerns. They depend almost exclusively on traditional botanical remedies for various ailments, including parasitic infections, but realize that they’re not enough. From what I could see, this community has no running water, no sanitation system, or specific knowledge about the organisms infecting them. Their lives are difficult. A woman among the community leaders spoke passionately and with great eloquence about how her children have been denied care at the hospital that is nearest to them – “we were told our children were not sick enough.” I heard their anger and frustration with the national and regional political systems with regard to their health and education and how they felt totally excluded. I heard these wonderful folks talk about their beautiful community and about their families. We laughed and shared a meal. But the voice that I can still hear is that of one of the community elders: “...we are asking for your mercy.”  
Their situation, unfortunately, is not unique to the rainforest. Along the coast, in Lima, lie areas of extreme poverty where reside people who have the same kinds of aspirations for family, health, work, etc. as you and I. In the mountains, I was privileged to listen to an Andean woman explain how clean, running water has impacted her children and the opportunity she has for other activities – “This has changed my life...” she said, and she was talking about being able to have a sink and a faucet with running water that she knew had been chlorinated and thus disinfected.
I could go on and on with examples, but one could certainly ask, “so what?”  We all know that hardship and suffering occurs in lots of places around the world, including in our own lives at different points. But what should our response be as a College? What can it be? How best should we lead the bright and full-of-potential young men who are our students into lives in which they learn to “act responsibly” and to “live humanely”?
I’m confident that having students wrestle with the big issues of global health is one of the ways we can do this. These issues require the input of not only biologists, but economists, political scientists, mathematicians, historians, and ethicists, among others. Not only can this be a sustainable way for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to “act” and to “live” as individuals, but I believe that Wabash College as an institution can accomplish great things in this area -- in fact, merciful things.



April 16, 2010

A Wabash Meeting in Lima, Peru

I returned home from Peru about two weeks ago. My family and I are readjusting to life in the U.S. and the pace of life now that we're back in the middle of the various obligations from which we had temporarily escaped. I'm beginning to distill the experiences in Peru to forms which might be more easily digested by folks here on campus as well as others (more on that in a future post), but I wanted to share one of the enjoyable times we had with a Wabash alumnus during our last week in Lima.

We were fortunate enough to be able to connect with Joe Moore '06 and his fiancee, Juleen Rodakowski. Joe was a Biology major while a student at Wabash, then went to Chicago to teach in an inner-city school for two years through the Teach for America program. Joe and Juleen left the USA in September '09 to volunteer and couch-surf their way through Central and South America. Their story is a great one -- it would be impossible for me to try to summarize the experiences they've had over that time, so check out their blog if you want more: http://juleenjoeaventuras.blogspot.com/.

They were in Lima for a few weeks to volunteer at the Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru, a non-profit that serves individuals with a various developmental disabilities, in addition to helping their families. We were able to catch up with them for a day and to hear about some of their travels. It was a great time.

One really interesting and recent twist on this is that Joe has been willing to help out with what might evolve into a really interesting aspect of a global health project. Since Juleen returned to the States earlier this week and Joe has stayed on in Peru for a few more weeks, he volunteered to help out with some of the work that I investigated in Tarapoto, one of the rainforest cities in northern Peru that I had visited. He is currently working in Tarapoto with the NGO group at URKU and with Dra. Rosa Giove in attempt to gather some epidemiological data on parasitic infections that she has seen in her medical clinic He will visit the same indigenous community outside the town of Sisa that I had visited, and we hope that he'll be able to gather from them some information from having to do with their access to health care and their use of traditional medicines from the jungle.

It should prove to be a great experience for him and a great help from an alumnus on a budding project!